I had a bit of a SNAFU with the podcast this morning, but since I talked about #NaNoWriMo – and this post from 2014 – I thought I’d reprise it here. I’ll podcast tomorrow with the same thoughts!
This seemed like an appropriate photo for the topic of the new week – Managing Your Time: If You’ve a Deadline, You’ve a Schedule. How Do You Get Back On Track When Your Schedule Goes To Crap?
I’m in this place right now, getting back on track on a number of levels. My schedule didn’t really go to crap. But I did take a huge step back in September and now, it’s turned out, a good portion of October. It’s been deliberate in some ways and very likely much needed. Also weird.
See, in August I wrote 68,050. The most I’ve ever done in one month. It was a lot for me. More, that followed a straight run since the previous August when I wrote at least 41,000 words every month. In 2013 I wrote just over 497,000 words and so far for 2014, I’ve written 455,000. To do the math for you, that means I’ll likely have somewhere around 550,000 by December 31.
Once I get back on track, that is.
Because, in September, I only wrote 22,402. So far, for October I have 16,831. These are my two lowest word count months since May of 2013. I haven’t been doing nothing, precisely. I edited the novel that comes out in January, Under His Touch – developmental edits up through proofreading – and developmental edits on The Talon of the Hawk, which took a lot of focus, though a minimal additional word count. I worked up a proposal for three more Twelve Kingdoms books and started the first in the concept for another contemporary romance series. There’s been a lot of promo with the release of Rogue’s Paradise in September and preparing for The Tears of the Rosein November.
But I haven’t been doing much drafting. Which takes a whole other muscle.
Speaking of muscles, I was also sick in September. Some kind of low-level respiratory crud that nevertheless laid me low for several weeks. I got behind in exercising, too. Though managed to use the treadmill desk some every day, if only to keep my lymph flowing, I couldn’t run or lift weights. The treadmill served as a cat bed more than it moved. All of this was by way of necessary recovery. I truly believe that. I don’t have another book deadline until March 1. I haven’t gotten sick in a long time. It worked out okay for this to be my down time.
However, it’s now time to ramp up again and the question, the focus of our topic this week, is how do I do that?
I take my own advice. The sort I had the opportunity to hand out a couple of weeks ago when Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, visited our local chapter meeting, something I mentioned in last week’s post, too. One gal asked if Chris had advice on how to get going on writing those 1,667 words/day to make the 50K words/month that’s the NaNoWriMo goal. He said he didn’t so I offered mine. I told her that the temptation is to do the math exactly that way – to divide 50K by the 30 days of November and focus on achieving 1,667 words for each of those days. The problem with that approach is that writing that many words on the first day is akin to learning to run a marathon by going out and running ten miles right off the bat.
Yeah, you can probably do it, but you’ll feel the pain later.
In fact, you might be able to do it for a couple/three/four days – and then the crash occurs. Like my recovery time recently, it’s a natural sequel to going flat out.
Better, I told her, to treat it like that marathon training. Build up a little more every day. Stop before you’re tired, because that energy will translate to the next day. Consider setting up a schedule for NaNoWriMo like this:
By the end of November 30, you’d have 50,150 words. Best of all, by the time you’ve got yourself doing 2,200 words a day, it will feel very easy and natural. Because you’d be in shape for it.
This is what I need to do, to get myself back in shape. I’ve gotten back into running and weight-lifting, working my way back up to my previous levels. I’m tracking my treadmill desk miles, making sure I do a little more each week. I need to get back into drafting, but not to 2,200 words/day. Not right off, tempting as that is. I’m going to ramp up like this. Get the words flowing.
Back on track.
I loved how this dog got their own chair at the bar along Denver’s busy 16th Street pedestrian mall. Spotted while having drinks with the lovely and witty Limecello.
Angela James, now Editorial Director at Carina Press, took this pic of me at the RT Book Fair. Love how skinny she made me look!
So, now I’m home and getting back in the groove. I spent most of yesterday on day job conference calls and with my spreadsheets – organizing the next month of my life.
That’s how it works for me, kind of in chunks of time. I keep this running To Do List in Excel, with a column for each day. So, today’s list looks like this:
Don’t worry about not understanding my cryptic notes – it’s a mix of writing life, day job and Other. Significantly, I don’t have writing work on there because that two hours happens every day, regardless, and I have Another, FAR more complex set of spreadsheets to track what I’m doing there.
At any rate, that’s today’s column and there’s one for tomorrow and the next day, and so on, until Sunday 6/9, when it stops.
Why Sunday 6/9, you might ask? Well, this is the interesting part.
(And okay – I totally accept if you all find NONE OF THIS even remotely interesting. Feel free to move on and read something amusing like this XKCD comic.)
Still here? Go figure.
So, the reason it’s Sunday 6/9 is because that’s the day I fly home from the Lori Foster Reader/Author Get Together (RAGT). Up until yesterday, the list ended on Monday 5/13, RUBY’s release day. (Yay!) It’s also a week past getting home from the RT Convention. Do you see the pattern? It just hit me as I was doing this yesterday.
It reminds me of the habits I developed in college. I used to carry these day calendars that showed a week at a time. Don’t be alarmed, kids – this was back in the days when we didn’t HAVE handheld computer devices, also known as the 80s. I would organize my life my semester. At the beginning of each term, I wrote down all the dates of my exams, midterms and finals, along with major papers due – peppered with school holidays. Then I proceeded to work from deadline to deadline. Once a test was taken or a paper turned in, I looked to the next milestone down the road.
Which is totally what I’m doing now. Conferences, release dates and book deadlines – along with vacations – form the structure of my new life.
I’m not sure this is a good approach or not, but it’s interesting to see how I’m still working off those early habits. It might be worth examining if there’s a better way to do things.
Anyone have suggestions?
|make mani/pedi appt|
|make wands – 10|
|send books & wand to Sullivan|
|send wands – Amy, Much Ado|
|Send WV notes|
|NN Report – check errors|
|Establish dates for GWR & NN|
|to QA – 5/7 CCR Protocol|
|write up Ph II/V history|
|5/8 Laura’s PA|
|before 5/9 call – figure 5-18 hours|
|WV Enforcement Policy|
|Laramie place to stay|
I know, I know – this is hardly earth-shattering news. But you all know how it is. I spend in the neighborhood of half my day in this room, between my day job and the writing career. To rework it after several years has a profound effect on my life. Plus, I like the change much better than I’d expected to.
See, the day after Christmas, I went online and bought myself a treadmill desk. All of you out there looking for those great articles about the DIY treadmill desk or the cheapie alternative? You will not find it here. Yes, I looked at all of those articles and people gave me great advice. But, in the end, I wanted a long-term solution that I could live with for my roughly half a day that I’d spend with it. I’ll do a post on my solution when it all arrives (not for several weeks), but the short version is that I’m getting a hydraulic desk that I can raise and lower, so I can either sit or stand or walk while working at it.
The new desk is significantly bigger than my current desk, so I knew I’d need to rearrange. Especially if I wanted to keep my window view, which was a high priority for me. Since I couldn’t have my new treadmill desk yet, I could displace that excitement into a bit of New Year’s new office energy.
Basically all I had to do was flip the furniture from one side to the other. Here’s how it looked before:
And – well, it turns out I don’t have a good picture of the other side, but all my computer/day-job related stuff (printers, scanners, files) were to the right. When we moved in, I set it up that way because there’s a handy-dandy power strip along that west wall. It seemed logical to put all the plug-in stuff next to it. But the problem with that kind of thing is the power strip location drove everything else. Which turns out to have been not the best choice.
Part of this comes from changes in technology, but all that STUFF is now to the left of my desk, which you can see in the very top pic. The equipment is all smaller, combined, with fewer cords. I also like the serendipity of how the painting of the view out a window to the ocean kind of carries over from my real window with the desert view.
Now the corner is much more all about my writing face. I love how my story board is now right there – and I can swivel in my chair to see it and contemplate. (It’s set up for the Phantom e-serial now, so if the act structure looks different now – for those alert blog readers who notice such things – that’s why.)
I don’t know if it shows in the pictures, but the difference in the feel of the space, the feng shui, if you will, is startling. More, I find the change has stimulated me. See, habits can be good things. The terrific thing about habits is they carry us through tasks that don’t require thinking. Like learning to drive. At first it felt like ten-thousand things to think about – clutches, accelerators, brakes, steering wheels, turn signals, wipers, lights, fifteen-million other drivers in a mad whirl – but over time that becomes automatic. We can drive our entire commute without really thinking about it, which lets us pay attention to things like audiobooks. But this energy-saving feature of our natures comes with a cost – it’s easy to miss stuff this way. Who among us has not been driving down the highway and suddenly realized half an hour has gone by that we don’t remember? What did we miss?
Deliberately breaking a habit can bring new awareness and stimulation. Just being in my reversed space makes me have to think about where the phone is, where something is now kept. I feel excited and ready for new things.
Plus? Treadmill desk!
He’s going to be a Big Kitty.
I’m looking forward to the holiday season this year. I have ideas for decorating and even a cool homemade gift for people. I take this to mean that I’m feeling rested and the creativity is flowing. Part of this, I’ve suddenly realized, is because I changed some of my fundamental habits. What’s more is, I change a bad, lifelong habit without really realizing it.
Which is just extraordinary to me.
It’s *hard* to change habits – we all know this. Especially the bad ones. Those junk foods we crave but shouldn’t eat. That wine we shouldn’t drink nearly so much of. The TV shows we waste time on. The internet surfing when we should be working. I imagine each of us could list our top five bad habits – and then write a book on how many times we’ve tried to change them, how and why it ended up not working. (Because if it worked, it wouldn’t still be on the top five list, right?)
So, here’s one of mine: I’m a procrastinator.
Always have been. Back in school, I was the kid who wrote EVERY paper the night before it was due. I never studied until the day before the exam. (Well, the entire weekend in college for brutal classes like organic chemistry.) I once read the Iliad and the Odyssey over a couple of days during reading week before finals. Even with work, I don’t really get going on a deliverable until the deadline was breathing down my neck.
Deadline stress was my eternal motivator.
Which is awful. If you’re like me, you know just how stress-inducing this Very Bad Habit is. The late nights, the great fear that you won’t finish in time or that, if you do finish, the product will sucketh mightily.
I’ve known this about myself pretty much all my life and just hate it. And yet, over and over again, I would fall into the same pattern. Always dealing with the next fire, the next emergency. I always kind of envied the work-ahead people, but never found a way to break this habit.
Until just recently.
You know what worked? I didn’t change that particular habit, I changed other things that just happened to result in me at long last not relying on deadline pressure for motivation.
It’s like I tricked myself into operating differently. Isn’t that amazing?
So, what happened is, I had a number of writing deadlines. One was external – my first ever turn-in-your-book-by-this-date publication deadline, which I was determined not to blow – and several internal deadlines, important to me for keeping everything on track.I really, really, really did not want to be finishing that book the night before the deadline. I could not risk that it wouldn’t be as good as I needed it to be. No shortcuts, no crossing fingers, no Hail Mary’s. I wanted lots of time to get it done and get it done right.
So I planned out all my work. I finished another project that I wanted out of the way, to clear time for the one with the external deadline. I planned my dayjob work so that nothing would actually catch on fire enough to divert me. I worked in both measured paces and intense doses, depending on my time and inclination.
This was the amazing part.
I finished both projects early. Like, 7-10 days early. I’ve *never* finished anything early before in my life. Bizarrely, everything else fell into place, too. I’d wanted everything done before Thanksgiving, so I could relax and not worry about ongoing projects. I finished all my day job work by early afternoon Monday – where usually I’m working into the evening before we leave, trying to clear my desk.
At that point, I realized I had nothing on fire. Nothing that I was leaving undone.
It was miraculous.
I’d somehow learned to do my work ahead of time, in an un-stressed, no-deadline-pressure way, all because I’d restructured my other habits.
Now those of you who’ve followed my blog for a while know that I’ve long been a proponent of writing every day. I have my rituals, my good and productive habits. This overall change in my pattern of behavior grew out of that foundation. I suspect that’s key – I didn’t change everything overnight.
But I also think it’s important that I never tried to stop being a procrastinator. I changed the way I work towards a goal.
And that has made all the difference.
(with apologies to Robert Frost)